England seek crushing final blow
Match factsAugust 21-25, The Oval
Start time 1100 (1000 GMT)
Big PictureNot since 1981 have England arrived at The Oval for the last Test of an Ashes summer with the series already won. The possibility that lies tantalisingly before them is even rarer. Never before have Australia been beaten 4-0 by England and only once have they lost by such a wide margin (the 5-1 home defeat in 1978-79, when Packer was a dirty word). After a demoralising six weeks, when Australia have regularly misplaced their key moments, they will have to find extra reserves if they not to be swept away by an English tide.
Metaphor aside, Australia have again delved into their squad to supplement an ever-changing cast, with James Faulkner called on to make his Test debut. Only Mathew Wade of the original 16-man party has not been utilised and, with the additions of Ashton Agar and Steven Smith, Australia will have used 17 different players over the course of the series - not to mention a batting order that has changed with every Test. England, by contrast, have been their usual, methodical selves and only an injury to Tim Bresnan will force them to alter the team for the first time since Steven Finn was dropped for the second Test at Lord's. It is not only the scorelines that have changed in Ashes cricket.
It may not be the cauldron of expectation experienced in 2005 and 2009, then, but The Oval has a recent record of producing memorable finales. Despite England's supremacy, this series has at times brought to mind the joke from Annie Hall about a conversation between two elderly women at a resort in the Catskill mountains: "One of them says, 'Boy, the food in this place is terrible.' The other one says, 'Yeah, I know, and such small portions.'" There has been a shortfall in quality on both sides - only Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and Ryan Harris can claim to have had outstanding series - but the Investec Ashes continues to serve up irresistible moments.
Form guideEngland: WDWWW
Players to watchJonny Bairstow has been attempting to nail down a spot in England's Test side for over a year now but, despite frequent encouraging episodes, the hammer keeps descending at a crooked angle. His 67 at Lord's was crucial in helping to right England's first innings and 203 runs at 29.00 in the series puts him above both Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott but doubts about his technique and temperament persist. England have not had a century from their No. 6 batsman since Eoin Morgan in 2010 but it feels like Bairstow needs a three-figure score to be sure of his place this winter.
When you have backers like Shane Warne in your corner, big things are expected and James Faulkner has provided plenty of evidence of his talent since his debut for Tasmania as an 18-year-old. Now 23, Faulkner averages 30.31 with the bat and 22.87 with the ball in first-class cricket and his feisty, competitive spirit has been to the fore in a handful of limited-overs appearances for his country. That aside, Australia may hope the fact Faulkner hails from Launceston, hometown of Ricky Ponting, is enough to make England edgy.
Alastair Cook said that Chris Tremlett has a "good chance" of coming back into the side for a first Test appearance since January 2012. Bresnan's back injury means a space has opened up in the attack and Tremlett will be up against Chris Woakes - more of a like-for-like replacement for the all-round talents of Bresnan - and Finn. Giving Simon Kerrigan a debut alongside Graeme Swann remains an outside possibility, though England have not played two spinners at home since Cardiff 2009.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Joe Root, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Chris Tremlett 11 James Anderson
Australia have announced their XI in advance, with Faulkner set to make his debut and Mitchell Starc returning. Usman Khawaja and Jackson Bird drop out and, with allrounder Faulkner coming in at No. 7, Australia will rejig their batting order again. After two innings at No. 6 (and one at No. 4), Shane Watson moves back up the order to first drop, a position that has caused Australia a deal of grief in recent times, while Brad Haddin is now in the top six, above a lengthy, if doughty, tail.
Australia 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Steven Smith, 6 Brad Haddin (wk), 7 James Faulkner, 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 Nathan Lyon
Pitch and conditionsThe Oval has been on the slow side and more liable to turn in recent years but, although the pitch for the fifth Test is dry, there is an expectation that it will be quicker and bouncier than usual. The weather is forecast to be warm, although there is the possibility of showers interrupting a couple of day's play.
Stats and trivia
- England have only lost six times to Australia at The Oval, against 16 wins, making it their most successful home ground.
- The last time Australia went two consecutive series without winning a Test was in 1986.
- After 98 and 96 Test matches respectively, the batting records of Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook are separated by 33 runs and 0.21 in average. Pietersen is marginally ahead of his captain but Cook has two more centuries (25 to 23).
- James Faulkner will become the 435th player to represent Australia in Tests.
"I think it would be very special to win the Ashes 4-0. That is what our motivation is as a side and we are hopefully going to pick the right side - the side that we think can win this Test match."
England captain Alastair Cook hasn't lost the taste for winning.
"He is an extra option to help us take 20 wickets but it is the overall package that James Faulkner brings. His toughness and performances of late in whatever format and the fact that he is not just a bowler. He can make some very handy runs for us."
Michael Clarke on Australia's newest Test recruit.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here